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American Highway Flower

Nirvana was not a great band. They were a good band with a talented frontman. The reason they were so hugely successful was because their sound was right. They came along in the maw of the Seattle movement, a sort of dorky, melodically attuned harking to punk. Grunge-o-matic. Doesn't make them a great band. Nor does what's-his-name offing himself.

Dada is a great band. A sick band. The best three-man in the history of rock, if you want to traffic in the standard rock-critic hyperbole. Nineteen-ninety-two's Puzzle was a breathtaking debut, an intricate collection of pop gems backlit by the slashing guitar work of Michael Gurley and his vocal collaboration with bassist Joie Calio.

Comes now the followup, American Highway Flower, which will either plunge them into the pukesack of mainstream notoriety, or elevate their loyal following to drooling cult status. The music here is murkier, jerkier, and equally brilliant. The hazy harmonizing of "Ask the Dust" cedes to the acoustic trickle of "Scum," which cedes to the swampthump of "Feel Me Don't You," which cedes to...well, you get the point. The good shit just keeps on getting shat.

"All I Am," the churning-anthem-cum-hit single, will soon be filling your ears. I think.

For those who care about such things, the lyrical work is talon-sharp. On "Real Soon," the album's sleeper, Calio plays mock slacker to disinterested perfection: "I gonna need somebody/Someone to nail my soul to my shoes/I gonna need somebody/Real soon."

Too metaphoric? Try this: "I saw an angel/Shooting junk in Reno/Blinded by a devil/Playing checkers in the park."

Ohfer Chrissake, buy the album. Real soon.
-- By Steven Almond

Luka Bloom

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Irish folkie Luka Bloom has never been swayed by the prospect of commercial success, and his latest album serves as a tribute to his eloquence and integrity. Recorded live, relying solely on his heartfelt vocals and a lone acoustic guitar, these thirteen songs ring with rare passion and purpose. Perhaps it's part of a trend. With the recent releases of Johnny Cash's American Recordings and two back-to-the-basics albums by Bob Dylan, it's time to accept the notion that no amount of studio wizardry can take the place of great songs well sung.

In this case, that's obvious from the outset, with Bloom belting out such beautiful ballads as "Diamond Mountain," "To Begin To," and "Freedom Song." He serves up a stirring, sensual set, one that is, by turns, impassioned and introspective. However, despite its mellow mood, the music often proves quite compelling, particularly in the case of "Right Here, Right Now," and "Holding Back the River," where Bloom's evocative execution becomes a riveting revelation. Okay, so Bloom may never become a champion on the charts. Here, on his Turf, only the music matters.

-- By Lee "Train" Zimmerman

Arthur Barron and Hilton Ruiz
Arthur Barron Hilton Ruiz
(Dragon Rose Records)

Faster than the speed of thought, Hilton Ruiz's percussive piano improvisation provides a blueprint of the creative process. Still, one wonders: Do his fingers fly that fast to catch up with his mind, or is it the other way around?

Ruiz dominates nearly every session he contributes to, and this live set at Rose's on South Beach is no exception. Accompanied by long-time friend and Rose's proprietor Arthur Barron on tenor saxophone and a rotating roster of bassmen and drummers (Dave Wertman and Pepe Aparicio on the bottom and John Yarling and Oscar Salas wielding the sticks), the manic pianoman's attack is solidly anchored, particularly by Osieku Da*ell's steady congo bopping. Barron is obviously inspired in this setting, dancing along the avant edge much like New York pal Dave Liebman, and occasionally recalling the throaty rumblings of mentor Pharaoh Sanders.

Barron's compositions, "Mr. Q's Day of Judgment" and "It's Strange," feature some tasty riffs a la Blue Note, ca. 1961, allowing the soloists to weave in and out of the song structure. And speaking of tasty riffs, Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" and Miles Davis's "All Blues" are also here, the latter making use of Pete Minger's cool blue flugelhorn. A relaxed session in spite of Ruiz's psychopianistics, Barron gives his sidemen plenty of room to stretch out; the shortest track clocks in at fourteen and a half minutes.

Because of their length and unrelenting straight-ahead jazz approach, you most likely won't hear any of these songs on the radio. But Barron's no fool: He released a "light jazz" disc (Soul Messenger) simultaneously, which you soon may be hearing on the radio. Sometimes you gotta give the devil his due, if only to distract him while you're hangin' with the angels.

-- By Bob Weinberg

Buckshot LeFonque
Buckshot LeFonque

DJ Premier plus Branford Marsalis equals Buckshot LeFonque. Some big damn secret. (Branf says he didn't want his jazz rep to get in the way of the record. Probably just embarrassed as hell.) Here's another equation: Jazz plus rap equals bad jazz and lukewarm rap.

-- By Bob Weinberg


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